By Michael Angelo S. Murillo, Senior Reporter
THE Phoenix Super LPG Fuel Masters moved a step closer to reaching the finals of the PBA Philippine Cup after booking a key 92-89 victory over the TNT Tropang Giga in Game Three of their best-of-five semifinal series on Sunday at the Angeles University Foundation Sports Arena in Pampanga.
In yet another close fight between the two teams in their Philippine Basketball Association (PBA) Final Four clash, Phoenix held strong down the stretch amid the tough challenge of TNT to go up in the series.
Simon Enciso got it going early for TNT, draining three straight three-pointers to help his team to a 17-12 cushion in the first eight minutes of the opening quarter.
Phoenix, however, would charge back the rest of the frame, on the lead of Calvin Abueva, to narrow the gap, 24-22.
The Fuel Masters sustained the momentum they got in the first canto in the second quarter, outscoring the Tropang Giga, 19-11, to take a 41-35 advantage by the 5:10 mark.
TNT stayed within striking distance after, down by just two points, 49-47, at the halftime break.
Phoenix still dictated the pace of the contest at the start of the third canto.
It stretched its lead to nine points, 62-53, with 8:45 left to play behind the hot shooting of Matthew Wright.
TNT made attempts to claw its way back from there but were held down by the Fuel Masters, who were still ahead, 73-69, entering the fourth quarter.
With the outcome still wide open, the teams began the payoff canto with more bounce to their attacks as they looked to establish control for the homestretch.
The count was knotted at 77-all by the midway point.
Phoenix, however, went on an 11-4 run in the next three minutes to create a seven-point distance, 88-81.
Sensing the game was slipping from their hands, the Tropang Giga moved to press on with their charge, cutting their deficit to just a point, 88-87, with 1:10 left.
Phoenix got more breathing space, 90-87, after Jason Perkins scored off a putback with 47 ticks remaining.
TNT sued for time after to set up a play. The move paid off as Ray Parks Jr. scored a deuce with 40 seconds to go to make it a one-point game, 90-89.
Off a ceasefire, Mr. Wright countered for Phoenix, draining a jumper on top of the key to make it, 92-89, with 22 seconds left.
Without a timeout, TNT tried to level the count but three-point attempts by Roger Pogoy and Jayson Castro failed to connect, preserving the win for the Fuel Masters.
Mr. Wright top-scored for Phoenix with 25 points with Mr. Abueva tallying all-around numbers of 24 points, 14 rebounds, six assists, four steals and a block.
RJ Jazul and Mr. Perkins, meanwhile, each had 11 markers for the Fuel Masters, who incidentally are angling to make it to their first PBA finals appearance in franchise history.
For TNT, it was Mr. Parks who led with a double-double of 19 points and 13 rebounds, followed by Mr. Enciso with 16 points and Troy Rosario with 14.
Game Four of the series is on Nov. 25 at 6:30 p.m.